An excerpt from:
CALL OF THE JAGUAR
by Pamela Beason,
Daphne du Maurier Award Winning Author
This is a scene from the first third of the book. In hopes of finding and surprising her long-ago lover Dr. Patrick Kerby, Rachel McCarthy has hired pilot Alex Carpenter to fly her to a remote archaeological site in Guatemala.
In the distance, the jungle resumed, green and dense, and beyond that, a reddish-colored mountain floated above the treetops.
“Is that El Castillo?” Alex asked.
“Yes, that’s my mountain.” Her heart lifted at the sight. At least that hadn’t changed. The plane’s shadow flitted over the green jungle below as they neared the peak. “Look,” Rachel said. “There’s a landing strip.”
Alex flew lower, tilting the wings as he circled the strip of rough red dirt slashed out of the jungle. “I don’t see any ruins.”
Rachel peered across him, looking out his side window, searching for any sign of the archaeological site. Alex wheeled the plane again and they spiraled lower. As they neared the landing strip, several men stepped out of the jungle. They were dressed in camouflage fatigues and gripped automatic rifles in their hands.
Alex stiffened and gripped the yoke nervously. “Uh-oh. Was your professor expecting us?”
Oh crap, she had told him she had an urgent message for Dr. Kerby, hadn’t she? “I doubt it,” she said. “I couldn’t call—no phone, no fax. No electricity.”
The men on the ground raised their rifles to their shoulders. Alex jerked back the yoke. “Shit!”
Shots rang out around them as the plane climbed suddenly and steeply, leaving Rachel’s stomach somewhere near her feet. She ducked her head beneath the window. Bullets pinged off the exterior of the plane.
“Goddamn it!” Alex shouted toward his side window. “Can’t they see we’re civilians? The pinging of bullets stopped and Alex leveled off. Rachel pulled herself together, sat up straight, and chanced a look out the window. “We made it.” She heaved a sigh of relief. “We’re out of range.”
Her brain was still flashing like a warning light. What the hell had just happened? The mountain was El Castillo; she knew they were in the right location. Patrick was down there somewhere. Why was the place crawling with armed soldiers? What was she supposed to do now?
“What’s Plan B?” Alex asked, echoing her thoughts. “Back to Antigua?”
The engine sputtered. A warning light flashed red on the instrument panel. Damn. Rachel clutched for her armrests, realized she had none, and ended up wadding the denim above her knees in terrified fistfuls. Alex shot her a glance filled with anger. He tipped the plane on a wing again, his gaze raking over the terrain below.
“Shit!” he yelled again. He nodded toward the warning light, which seemed to glow redder with each passing second. “That’s the oil gauge. The pan must be hit. I have to put her down.”
Rachel couldn’t stop the chant in her head. Oh god, oh god, oh god. This couldn’t be happening. The sputtering of the failing engine grew louder. They wheeled in an ever descending spiral. Beneath them was a carpet of endless treetops; she couldn’t even see the ground. Couldn’t he see that? They’d die slamming into the trees. “Are you crazy?” she shouted. “We’re over the jungle! There’s no place to land.”
His gaze locked on a spot ahead. “There, a cornfield.”
She followed his gaze. Yes, a field loomed ahead. She’d been regretting the clearcutting and burning of the jungle just a few minutes ago and now she was supremely thankful for it.
The engine sputtered out. All was silent for a second as they hung suspended in the air. Rachel stared at Alex, afraid to speak. Blue eyes, dark hair, weathered face, not a bad looking man. He might be the last human being she’d ever see. She really didn’t want to say anything she’d regret at The Pearly Gates.
Then the plane began to fall. Air rushed by, louder and louder. Screaming would not help. She swallowed instead and said in a shaky voice, “Aren’t we going down awfully fast?”
Alex was pulling back on the yoke for all he was worth. “Lady, this isn’t a glider.”
Through the windshield Rachel watched a thatched hut in the Mayan village zoom closer. Beyond the hut was the cornfield in which several women and children were picking corn. As the sound of the plane grew louder, they looked up, and then ran, shouting. As the plane descended toward the ground, the hut loomed large through the windshield. Dead ahead. Maybe it would be like a hay bale on a racetrack. Maybe plowing into it would be their salvation. Rachel prayed there was nobody inside. “Are we going to clear it?” she asked.
“Of course we’re going to clear it,” he said. For a man about to die, he sounded remarkably calm and certain of himself.
Unfortunately, he wasn’t quite right. The plane’s landing gear connected with the roof of the hut and ripped through the thatch, dipping the plane’s nose down. The seatbelt cut into Rachel’s chest. Furrows of plowed earth loomed large through the windshield. Her knapsack leapt off the floor and hurtled toward her face.
The hell with self-control. She screamed.
~ END OF EXCERPT ~